Today is Bus Day and Nikhil Varma gets on to 500 D, for a trip from Banashankari in the south to Hebbal in the north of the city and gets some commute gyaan from regular passengers

“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars, it’s where the rich use public transportation” is a quote that made Enrique Penalosa, the former mayor of Bagota popular across the world. Penalosa is credited with ending the transport woes of the bustling Columbian town with measures that included creating dedicated cycling lanes and rapid bus transit lanes in an effort to ensure that public transport offers an effective commute in the city. Incidentally, this quote also greets visitors at the BMTC office in Shantinagar.

A continent away, Bangalore may not have its Penalosa yet, but the public transport system seems to have taken a turn for the better in this bustling metropolis too. The BMTC has a net footfall of nearly 4 million a day, as people use the system to make the commute from home to work. It offers a range of bus services and also operates Volvo services on key corridors in the city

We decided to hitch a ride on the Volvo service on the route 500 D from the leafy suburbs of Banashankari in the south to the busy bylanes of Hebbal on the northern end of the city on the outer ring road. The stretch hosts numerous IT parks, apartment complexes and bisects at least three major arterial roads of the city and is arguably one of the longest bus routes in the city.

At the bus stand, the conductor Kumaran sips a cup of coffee. It is five in the evening and a stream of blue collar workers, IT employees and school childer fill the bus. The crowd is thin and Kumaran says, “It is a light ride till the Jayadeva signal. The crowds pick up after that. From 5 to 9 in the evening, the buses are filled to capacity and the commute takes almost two-and-a-half hours owing to the high traffic density.”

P.Ramesh runs a pharmacy store near the Jayadeva and is on his way to the store from his house in Banashankari. “I work in the evenings, while my brother manages the store in the morning. I spend Rs.30 on a one-way trip. It saves me the pressure of dealing with the rush hour traffic in my car and ensures that I do not need to bicker with auto rickshaws. It is always a comfortable ride.”

These thoughts are echoed by school teacher Shoba Shashikumar, who prefers to take the bus to her apartment complex near the Bellandur junction on the Outer ring road to taking her car. “My school is in Jayanagar. The traffic is terrible in the mornings and the evenings. Autos refuse to ply to my place citing the long distance and the traffic. A daily pass for Rs. 120 gets me access to a comfortable ride in AC comfort. I tend to catch up on my reading on the bus.”

As the bus negotiates the traffic build up near the Bangalore Central intersection at Jayanagar and pulls over the bustling Jayadeva Flyover, the crowd profile changes with many IT employees making their way to their workplaces and back on the IT corridor. Most of them are reading books or swiping their tablets and phones. Reena K.N. works at Accenture and spends much of her hour- long journey to work reading books or interesting articles on her galaxy Tab. “I read up about topics I find interesting, especially pertaining to food and online recipes. I work in the evenings and sleep through the day and find this ride the best time to get some time for myself.”

She adds, “I do not take the office cab in the evenings since it takes more time and is not as comfortable as the bus is.”

We rush through BTM layout and whiz past the Silk board flyover, even as the bus becomes more crowded. Kumaran manoeuvres across the bus, asking people for tickets and ensuring that more space is created. “The crowd is always concentrated in the front half of the bus and it becomes very difficult for us to give tickets. Often, we are fined by ticket checkers since people do not buy tickets upfront. The stretch from Silk Board to Total Mall near the EMC office is the most crowded and time consuming.”

Seventy-five-year old Prakash Kumar is also a regular commuter on this route, often taking the bus from Marathahalli to the K.R.Puram tin factory where he manages a small catering service. “I stay with my son and his family. I was a government employee and decided to set up a business to while away time. This bus ensures that I can travel to my workplace without being dependent on anyone.”

The bus grinds to a halt just outside the KR Puram Railway Station. Swati Sethi, an MBA student anxiously peers at her watch. “I am interning with a marketing firm at Hebbal and have a meeting in an hour. This snarl will ensure that I miss the meeting.” Most commuters are not very perturbed and contend that the snarl at the railway station is a daily occurrence. Once the station is negotiated, we arrive at KR Puram and the bus loops into the final phase of its journey, crisscrossing swathes of East and North east Bangalore with relative ease, with a minor traffic block at Nagawara, outside the Manyata tech park before it reaches the Hebbal bus stand, 140 minutes after the journey began. As the passengers clear out, the bus is made ready for another trip and the driver and conductor take a small break before starting the return journey in 15 minutes.